Friday, October 31, 2014

Malabar Farm: Ghosts and Hollywood

[Maybe you believe in the paranormal. Maybe you don't. Either way, I suggest that you take the following for what it is: a really cool story from a good pal of mine. - RW]

Guest post
by Andrea McEnaney

Ohio is not a state thought of as a getaway destination. When most people think of Ohio, if they think of it at all, they imagine farms and fields, not Hollywood icons. But for a period in the 1940s, Ohio was a destination for some of the biggest names in movies. James Cagney, Tyrone Power, Dorothy Lamour, Clark Gable - who, incidentally was born in Cadiz, Ohio - they all came and spent time there and when they came, they came to a farm.

Louis Bromfield was born in Mansfield, Ohio in 1896. He grew up on a farm like the typical Ohio boy. After high school, he went to Cornell University and studied agriculture, but eventually left for Columbia to study journalism. His studies were interrupted by World War I. He enlisted as a ambulance driver just as another famous author, Ernest Hemmingway, had. His efforts earned him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor medals. After the war, he returned to the United States and lived in New York City working as a reporter. 

In 1924, he wrote his first novel, The Green Bay Tree, and in 1927, he earned a Pulitzer Prize for Early Autumn.  In 1925, the Bromfields left the U.S. for a vacation in France. They ended up living there for  the next thirteen years.  During that time, one of Bromfields books, The Rains Came, was made into a motion picture, and he was introduced to Hollywood society. Two more of his novels were made into movies, Mrs. Parkington (1944) and The Rains of Ranchipur (1955). The latter starred a young Richard Burton.

Louis Bromfield
When the dark clouds of war began to build over Europe, Bromfield and his family returned to America and Ohio. He purchased a farm outside of Mansfield and began to work it as his father and grandfather before him had worked the land. He named the farm Malabar after the Malabar region of India, the setting for The Rains Came. Bromfield had made many friends in Hollywood, prominent among them was Humphrey Bogart. Old timers will tell you that it wasn't unusual to see Bromfield and Bogart walking the streets of Mansfield. Bogart loved Malabar so much that he chose the farm to be the site of his marriage to Lauren Bacall in 1945.  

The Hollywood elite began to come to the farm as a spot to get away from the paparazzi and bask in anonymity for a time. But they did not lounge around. Bromfield put them to work doing chores. The old timers remember seeing James Cagney selling produce from the farm at a market in Mansfield.

By the 1950s, Malabar Farm had become the standard for soil conservation and innovative farming practices. Bromfield had moved from fiction writing to writing about the land and how to preserve it. In 1952 Bromfield's wife, Mary, died of cancer, and Bromfield himself passed away in 1956. The children - three girls, Anne, Ellen, and Hope - moved away and began their own lives, and the Big House, as it was known, stood empty. 

Bogart & Bacall, at their wedding
at Malabar Farm in 1945
In 1972, the state of Ohio acquired the farm and created Malabar Farm State Park. The Big House was restored to the way it looked when the Bromfields lived there, right down to Louis' crumpled hat on the grand piano in the foyer. Over the years, many visitors came to the farm to see the house and barns. Some of them saw things that weren't on the tour. The rumors began that Malabar Farm was haunted. People, including the park rangers who worked there, saw Bromfields long dead boxer dogs. Some heard conversations in empty rooms.

In 2005, the Central Ohio Paranormal Society (COPS) was contacted by Malabar Farm to investigate the alleged hauntings. The group, based out of Columbus, was founded the year before by Mike and Gena Robare and use the scientific method of investigation, i.e. debunk everything that can be explained rationally. The first investigation yielded many EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) that could not be attributed to members of the team. Subsequent investigations found many more, including a voice that said, “tapes' done” a second before the click of the recorder stopping was heard. Gena Robare photographed a shadow figure standing in the doorway of one of the upstairs bedrooms. All attempts made to reproduce the photo were unsuccessful. 

Eventually, C.O.P.S became the paranormal investigation group of record for Malabar Farm and conducts investigations once a month, from May to August, that coincide with the Night Haunt event hosted by the park. Almost every investigation has yielded a result, whether it is electronically documented or a personal experience. 

Myrna Loy & Tyrone Power in The Rains Came,
based on Bromfield's book
The group has concluded that Malabar Farm is indeed haunted. Most of the activity is considered “residual,” that is, like a tape recording that plays over and over again. The group also believes there is an “intelligent” haunting occurring. This is a spirit and/or energy that is aware of its surroundings and interacts with the living. This conclusion was reached by the many voice recordings that answer questions posed, the instances of people being touched, and objects that move to different locations when there is no living person present. 

Alas, to the hopeful, I have to say that none of the spirits haunting Malabar Farm are the Hollywood legends whose pictures adorn the wall of an upstairs hallway. The ghosts are of the people who lived there day in and day out. Mary Bromfield still lives in her room, and Louis is usually in his study or sometimes in the living room. Anne, a rather tragic figure in that she may have had some mental health issues that resulted in her remaining upstairs most of the time, can be felt in her bedroom where the sadness is palpable. Occasionally, a invisible cat will mew and brush up against a leg. Still, for the movie buff, a visit to Malabar Farm will bring back the Golden Age of Hollywood and the beautiful rolling hills of Pleasant Valley will soothe away the worries of modern life.

Andrea McEnaney grew up on a farm in Eastern Ohio that wasn't a bit haunted. She is a medical assistant, a cartoonist, and a paranormal investigator and lives in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio with her husband, two cats, and a flatulent Beagle. She can be reached at

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